The formal parliament debate on who is to be Spain’s prime minister started at noon today and was adjourned right before midnight. We all know that José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero will be elected in the end, but officially he is not there yet. In fact, tomorrow morning there will be a first round of voting where it seems that he will not receive the required absolute majority.
Before today, the Basque nationalists PNV had not excluded that they would vote for him, but judging from the tone between them and Zapatero by the time the debate ended tonight, I find it highly unlikely they will do so. On the other hand, over the day a more inviting tone evolved between Zapatero and the Catalan nationalists CiU, although the latter already at an early stage declared that they would not vote for him.
Comments on Zapatero’s opening speech of the debate follow the political colours of individual newspapers. As a foreigner who lives here and whose future depends on the development of Spain, I was pleased to hear him focus on economics and propose measures to halt the current slow down.
Since the cost of living is high compared to average salaries and since unemployment in the construction industry is rising fast, PSOE’s proposal to build 1,5 million new subsidized apartments over the coming ten years comes with good timing. That nobody should have to choose between having a job or having children, that there must be a stop to gender-related violence and that the government is committed to put an end to ETA terrorism are some of the other things I liked to hear. However, I was concerned that Zapatero did not come back to any of the points on which CiU had advised that they wanted to receive clarity. Not surprisingly, the first reactions among the Catalan parties were that the government wants to re-centralise the state.
Only after critical remarks in Duran i Lleida’s (CiU) speech, did Zapatero finally reveal that he had taken note of the Catalan requests. The long demanded balances fiscals (comparisons of what autonomous regions contribute to the state through taxes versus what they receive back) will be published already within two months. Except for that, PSOE is decided to fully implement the estatut de Catalunya, albeit Zapatero foresaw that the negotiations on the financing of transferred responsibilities will take some time. Finally, and more symbolically in my eyes, the new government promises to add the transfer of fresh water from Rhône in France on the list of possible long-term solutions to Barcelona’s water crisis.
If Zapatero is not elected prime minister tomorrow, there will be a second round coming Friday. Then a so called single majority will be enough, so Spain will have a new prime minister. Personally, I will be disappointed if CiU do not abstain from voting against Zapatero. In today's debate, both sides opened the door to future discussions. Zapatero even made the comment that the CiU’s participation in the governing of the state is in the interest of the whole of Spain, and especially, in that of Catalonia.
I would go one step further: If there can be a co-operation without rushed commitments, it gives the Catalan nationalists a chance to stay true to their ideals. At the same time, it saves Catalonia from turning into the scapegoat for all unpopular decisions which the new government necessarily will have to make due to the recession. Finally, is makes it more difficult for PP to criticise the government for being in the hands of Catalan nationalist interests. That will be a good outcome not only for Catalonia and the rest of Spain but also for the smooth relationship between the two.